Sorenstam surges into tie with Inkster, Diaz
HUTCHINSON, Kan. -- The look on their faces hardly reflected their position at the U.S. Women's Open when Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster and Laura Diaz trudged off the course Friday after a hot, blustery and emotional day.
All of them gave back shots over the final two holes at Prairie Dunes. Only after they finished did they see the bright side of a brutal second round.
"I didn't panic out there,'' Inkster said. "I hung on by my pinkies.''
After a tearful farewell from Nancy Lopez and a shocking departure by Karrie Webb, the Women's Open took aim on the rest of the field Friday.
Not many were surprised at who emerged as the leaders, the only women who remained under par heading into the weekend.
Sorenstam, the most dominant player in women's golf, was at her best by keeping the leaders in her sights, then surging into a share of the lead with a 1-under 69, the only score under par from an afternoon starter all week.
"Overall, I'm very happy,'' she said. "To shoot under par in these conditions is obviously good. Normally, I play better by the weekend, so I look forward to that.''
Inkster recovered from a disastrous start, 3-over after four holes, to piece together a 2-over 72 that left her tied with Sorenstam at 139.
Joining them was Diaz, the 27-year-old emerging star, who played even-par over the final 12 holes for a 72 and will play in the final pairing Saturday with Inkster.
"It's important to remember that you're going to get some bounces you don't like, and some bounces you really do like,'' Diaz said. "You just learn to roll with it.''
Michele Redman had six birdies in a 1-under 69 in the morning and was at 140, along with Shani Waugh of Australia (73).
Webb, who was trying to win an unprecedented three straight U.S. Women's Open, won't be around to see the finish.
After opening with a 79, the best she could manage Friday was a 73. She missed the cut for the first time in 56 tournaments, and was leaving Prairie Dunes about the time Sorenstam, Inkster and Diaz were teeing off.
Inkster, who started on No. 10, turned toward the 18th green and tipped her visor to salute Lopez, who was playing in her 25th and final U.S. Women's Open.
It was an emotional moment for Lopez, who brought life to women's golf in the late 1970s and remains the LPGA Tour's most popular player. Lopez never won a Women's Open, four times a runner-up, and she had no chance at this one.
She finished with a 79, a free flow of tears and an enormous ovation.
"Whether you are winning or whether you are losing, it's always a thrill to walk up 18 and feel the love that the people have for not just me, but for the LPGA,'' Lopez said.
There wasn't much love from Prairie Dunes.
The course is carved out of sand dunes and looks like it belongs on the Lancashire coast. Perhaps that's why the best score of the day, a 2-under 68 in the morning, belonged to Joanne Morley and Karen Stupples of England.
And just like any U.S. Open, it requires patience.
Sorenstam hit only three greens on the front nine but lost only one shot to par, a three-putt on the 13th hole. She remained 1-over for the tournament when she chipped in from 18 feet on No. 4 for birdie, then rolled in a 12-footer for birdie on No. 6, running away from the hole and pumping her fist as it fell.
Inkster, 42, is trying to become the oldest champion of the U.S. Women's Open. She was far from pleased after finishing with bogeys on her last two holes, but a velvet putting touch is a good weapon to have in this championship.
"I'm a good grinder, and in a U.S. Open, that's what you need to do,'' Inkster said. "I don't have my 'A' game and I'm right there. If I can find it on the weekend, I'll be in good shape.''
Inkster needed every ounce of patience, especially after hacking out of the hay on No. 11 and making double bogey. Then, from a fairway bunker on No. 13, her iron caught a yucca plant just 10 feet away and bounced sideways into the rough, leading to a bogey.
Just like that, she was even par for the tournament.
She got back into the lead by hitting the flagstick on the par-3 fourth, the ball stopping just 3 feet away, and moved to 3-under with a 10-foot birdie on No. 7.
Diaz got off to a rousing start by chipping in from behind the 10th green for a birdie to take the lead. It didn't last long.
She bogeyed three of her next five holes to drop back to 1-under. But that was the extent of the damage, and after eight straight pars, she hit her approach into 8 feet for birdie on No. 6.
"The greens were firmer, the fairways were firmer. It was a day I had to get up and down a lot,'' Diaz said.
Sixty-nine players made the cut at 9-over 149. Prairie Dunes played nearly six strokes over par on Friday, and 31 women failed to break 80.
That's an ominous sign for the weekend, when Prairie Dunes will only get firmer, faster and tougher. The message to those wanting to survive was clear: Bring your best game.
Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
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